Last time, we looked at the odd paradox of how acid lowering medications begin to contribute to heartburn and many other problems. This week we shift our focus to how high blood sugars may contribute to diabetes, infection, cholesterol and pain.
The link between sugar/starch intake and diabetes is obvious by now and doesn’t require a long discussion. One thing to remember is that development of type II diabetes is a process, often requiring years to get bad enough that you qualify for an official diagnosis. Throughout that time, you will be suffering the ill effects of your damaged carbohydrate digestion.
Another issue is that high blood sugar levels begin to damage our nerves, including the Vagus nerve which is responsible for many things including digestion and the rate at which the stomach empties. As the Vagus nerve is damaged over time by repeated high blood sugar levels, the length of time food stays in the stomach increases. This also contributes to the heartburn problem we were talking about last week.
Blood sugar is itself pro-inflammatory which is one of the reasons our bodies work so hard at keeping it at a low level. The higher it goes, the more problematic it becomes. It contributes to many complaints of pain through direct irritation to the nerves and as a side effect to its disruption of circulation through small blood vessels.
High blood sugar is associated with a decreased ability to mobilize our immune cells in the blood stream, get them out of the blood stream to the site of the infection, and their fighting effectiveness once they arrive. High blood sugar may also lead directly to inflammation through increased fluid pressure within the blood vessels.
A widespread inflammatory response reduces the effectiveness of the immune system and the ability to isolate and fight off infection from a specific area. In effect, consistent high blood sugar leaves the immune system in a situation much like a public safety department trying to police 1000’s of traffic accidents during rush hour while buildings are burning down and people are looting the town!
Increased blood sugar levels begin to affect our ability to degrade and remove LDL from the body. This leads to an elevation of the LDL, known as “bad cholesterol”. In addition to this, the excess blood sugar damages the LDL in a way that promotes atherosclerosis and arteriosclerosis, commonly known as thickening or hardening of the arteries.
In addition to making LDL more difficult to get rid of, there is evidence that high blood sugar can actually hinder our ability to make HDL (“good cholesterol”). This low HDL typical of a starchy and sugar-rich diet, is a common sign in what is called Metabolic Syndrome.
After 20 years, the mainstream medicine is finally letting go of the idea that fat and cholesterol in the diet causes high triglycerides and cholesterol in the blood. Evidence has been mounting since they began to study the supposition that it is actually excess carbohydrate that leads to these elevated blood levels, rather than excess fat.
The first effect to mention is the simple pressure from the extra fluid that is required to buffer carbohydrate in the blood and cells. As fluid content goes up, it can exert physical pressure on our tissue which will register as generalized aches and pain.
Additionally, excessive blood sugar damages and irritates nerves which may register as pain and can also begin to reduce the function of the organs these nerves control. In the diabetes section, we mentioned how it can affect stomach function. This is also how diabetes causes damage to the organs it is more famous for harming: the kidneys, the eyes, the limbs (especially the feet) and the brain.
When you combine the direct effect of the nerve damage with the inflammation due to excess blood pressure through the area, it is obvious why diabetes so frequently leads to blindness, kidney failure, loss of coordination and sensation in the feet, etc. in addition to pain.
Another possible mechanism for causing generalized pain comes from high blood sugar’s effect on lowering blood calcium levels. As blood calcium is reduced your body releases a hormone intended to raise it back to the normal level. A stable blood calcium level is vital for normal nervous system and heart function so we are very good at maintaining this.
When the diet is poor in calcium or as we discussed previously, is unable to absorb calcium due to persistent use of antacids, the bone that is being formed lacks the appropriate minerals. The poorly mineralized collagen that provides the framework for our skeleton swells as it hydrates, putting pressure on the sensitive covering of our bones. The pressure registers as pain.